Just ask Del Marsh and Mike Hubbard, the two Republican lawmakers who helped engineer a Republican takeover of the state Senate and House of Representatives in 2010. While Alabama was a state where Republicans are popular, turning out entrenched Democrats from comfortable Statehouse seats required serious strategy and dedicated energy.
Holding a legislative majority is even more difficult. Just ask Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic congresswomen who lost the title of speaker of the U.S. House in 2010 when Republicans rallied their supporters to “fight back.”
Smartly governing with a legislative majority may be the trickiest of all. That’s what is becoming obvious in Montgomery as the Republican majority has proven unable to avoid snafus along the path of implementing their favored policies. Actually calling it a mere majority does a disservice to Alabama’s Republican lawmakers. They enjoy a super-majority with enough partisan politicians in their corner as to render Democrats all but irrelevant.
Yet, there have been bumps somewhere along the way to implementing a master plan that comes straight from the Heritage Foundation, the Ayn Rand catalogue and the Rush Limbaugh program. The formula for good government is missing key ingredients. Without the need to offer a sincere consideration of the views of the loyal opposition, Montgomery’s Republican leaders are often trapped in an echo chamber.
The first sign of trouble came in 2011 with passage of an anti-immigrant law. It was a crowd-pleaser for the nativists and those squeezed by the bad economy, which has historically pushed some otherwise rational citizens to extremism. By the late summer of 2011, the bad reviews had taken hold. Farmers and business owners spoke up to complain they’d been cut out of the loop during the drafting of the law. Courts shredded major provisions of HB56. The state took several PR hits with high-profile arrests of executives from international automakers.
Clearly, the Legislature that passed and the governor who signed the anti-immigrant law had not done their homework.
In 2012, a big push for the creation of charter schools ended with a fizzle as lawmakers and public-interest groups that should have been allies of the policy scattered because the bill’s proponents failed to properly sell this version of school reform.
The most high-profile measure of the current session is a school reform plan that will, among other things, create a tax credit that gives parents with children zoned into “failing schools” money to transfer their students to private schools or non-failing public schools.
Because the measure was designed behind closed doors and was never afforded the customary public hearings, fiscal considerations or salesmanship from top political supporters, state Republicans lost control of the narrative almost immediately.
Puzzlement was the public’s natural reaction. A major overhaul of public schooling had been made public only a few hours before it was passed in the state House and Senate. Most of those initial questions remain as the bill’s most prominent supporters offer assurances that are little more than, “Just trust us.”
Imagine a different scenario, one where Gov. Robert Bentley unveiled the Accountability Act during his State of the State address in early 2013. Following up, Bentley, Marsh and Hubbard could have made the circuit, promoting the idea to the state’s residents. Early in the 2013 session, hearings would have allowed members of the public to have their say. Education experts could have weighed in on the pro’s and the con’s.
Would there still be opponents? Of course, but lawmakers would have been able to better answer those critics. Along the way, they could have bundled into the package two items that passed the House this week — a 2 percent raise for teachers and a pool of cash to provide liability insurance to educators.
None of this would magically fix the Accountability Act’s flaws. However, it would have avoided the “ready, fire, aim” method that too frequently shoots Alabama’s Republican super-majority in the foot.